My top 5 self care strategies.

On my journey, I have found that it is constructive to return to sacred strategies of self-care because they provide me with the tools I need to stay centered, balanced and whole when the going gets tough. How do you thrive when you are not feeling your best?

I thrive on being gentle, kind and compassionate towards myself. Honoring my imperfections means that I am accepting the asymmetrical nature of being human.

Here are my top 5 sacred strategies for self-care aka honoring my imperfections:

1) Taking good care of my body and mind through yoga and mindful meditation is the key to wholeness and wellness. I practice mindful breathing exercises (pranayama) daily to calm feelings of anxiousness. I explore different types of yoga practice to cater to how I am feeling each day. On days when I feel less energetic, a restorative or therapeutic practice happens to be just what I need to restore my body, mind, and spirit.

2) Spending time in nature. It centers me. A simple stroll in your local park or nature center is very effective for grounding into the present moment. Grounding has a powerful way of calming the whole body and honors our need to simply slow down at times, breathe and relax.

3) I cook wholesome healthy food in my kitchen. Lately, I have taken a keen interest in Ayurvedic cooking and I have been having so much fun trying new ingredients and recipes! Trying out new recipes or ideas in the kitchen allows us to be creative and have fun all while nourishing our insides with good food choices.

4) I hang out with my friends and family. There is nothing like seeing the people that I love most to fill my heart with gratitude and joy. When was the last time you spent time laughing and enjoying the presence of your loved ones?

5) I treat myself. I buy myself flowers and take long hot baths with sea salt and essential oils. The pure bliss of feeling special and pampered is magical!

I have found that I have more energy and worry less when I slow down and choose to practice one or two of these self-care techniques on a regular basis, especially when I am not feeling my best.

Man is made or unmade by himself. In the armory of thought, he forges the weapons by which he destroys himself. He also fashions the tools with which he builds for himself heavenly mansions of joy and strength and peace. – William James

A simple way to reduce anxiety

The breath is a mighty tool for reducing anxiety. Pranayama or breathwork is a way to intentionally use the breath. By using the breath, we are able to feel how powerful the breath can be for soothing and calming the mind and body.

The Square Breath – Samavritti ratio

Benefits: This breathwork calms the mind and soothes the nervous system by focusing the mind in a positive and productive way.

Practice: Find a comfortable seated position, either in a chair or cross-legged on the floor. Sit tall and relax the shoulders.

  • Begin by taking a breath in
  • Exhale for a count of 4
  • Hold the exhale breath for a count of 4
  • Inhale for a count of 4
  • Hold the inhale breath for a count of 4

Flowing at your own pace, practice square breath for a few rounds, paying attention to the quality of each inhale and exhale. See if you can maintain an unbroken quality for each cycle of breath. After a few rounds, relax and breathe as you would normally. I find that practicing for 30 seconds is a good place to start

If while practicing square breath, you find that holding the breath is uncomfortable, simply omit the retention and just breathe evenly until it feels more enjoyable to hold the breath. Over time, you can increase the square count as your lung capacity expands.

Contraindications: Never strain the breath. If you are pregnant, practice breathing evenly without holding the breath. Check with your doctor if you have blood pressure or heart conditions.

Fun Fact: The Navy Seals use this technique too! Called 4X4 breath or Box Breathing, the Seals utilize their breath to manage stress and anxiety. This ultimately comes in handy when in potentially life-threatening situations.

How to use mindfulness and ease into change.

Spring season offers a great metaphor for change. New leaves begin to grow on the branches of trees and flowers sprout up from seeds buried deep in the earth during winter. I don’t know about you, but the inner child in me pops out as if she’d been trapped indoors for months and can finally go outside and play! If you have lived in a region of the world where you are able to experience the stark contrast of the seasonal shifts, then you know what I mean! Here in California, it takes a keener sense to observe the more subtle shifts, but they are there.

The practice of yoga allows us to awaken to the changes that are occurring within. For example, I love that moment at the beginning of class when I close my eyes, drop into my breath, quiet myself and just be present because it allows me to acknowledge the truth that I am forever changing. Breathing in and out, I notice that no two breaths are the same. In the physical body, cells are dying off just as new cells regenerate. When we look closely at our thoughts, we will see that the perceptions we carry of the world inside and outside of us are always shifting. We are evolving just like the seasons and existence is a constant cycle of life and death. So, in the time we allow ourselves to be mindful at any given moment, there is a great opportunity for deep acceptance of ourselves exactly the way we are. On my journey, I have found that embracing change allows for more contentment and flexibility in the world around me.

The most
radical act
in a world
that is sleeping
and numb
is to wake up
and feel.

– James McCrae

Self-care tips for a healthy heart!

In our modern day life, feeling overwhelmed and underwhelmed tend to be the norm. This can put a strain on our circulatory system, nervous system and ultimately our hearts. In this post, I will offer you some tips on how to take special care of your heart by creating rituals using yoga poses, breathwork, and meditation to bring you into to a place of contentment, time and time again.

It is becoming a daily ritual of mine to take more walks in nature. My walks offer an opportunity for me to relax into the present moment and lean into the sounds and sights. I take off my shoes and walk barefoot just to feel the wet ground beneath my feet; to connect with the soil. I’ll find somewhere quiet to sit and then look with my eyes to see what I see. I feel the warm sun on my skin and the cool wind at my back. I listen to the birds and even watch the behavioral patterns of bugs. The clouds are always making some kind of interesting picture to entertain my imaginative mind. Nature holds space for me to let go into this moment, and just be. When I am there, I don’t feel overly eager or bored; enthusiastic or disinterested. I just feel full of peace and full of pure joy. I am practicing Santosha or contentment.

Take a few moments for your self to step out into nature and discover that happy medium between the two polarizing feelings. See how what is usually mistaken as a humdrum feeling can instead be seen as one of balance, happiness, and aliveness in the heart center.

ASANA – Yoga postures for a healthy heart

Let us start by learning about some yoga poses designed to regulate heart rate, improve breathing, boost confidence, reduce anxiety and manage depression!

Soft Fish Pose (Matsyasana) -Effects* – Supporting the body with three folded blankets allows for you to relax completely into the pose. Keeping the knees bent is a kind choice for an achy lower back. Taking full breaths into the heart space is comforting and will help to relieve anxiety or nervousness.

Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) – Effects* – This pose can be done in a passive or active way, therefore the effects will vary depending on how you implement the pose in your practice. Pictured is a version of bridge pose with one leg extended upwards (Eka Pada Setu Bandha Sarvangasana). This version tones your muscles strengthening the shoulders, back, and legs. It reduces back pain, regulates your heart rate and can help with symptoms of depression.

Upward Facing Bow Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana) – Effects* – This exhilarating pose can give you a rush! It promotes a feeling of joy by opening up the whole front of the body. This pose improves breathing and blood circulation around the heart. It also helps to build emotional stability and self-confidence. I am showing a version of the pose (Eka Pada Urdhva Dhanurasana) by extending one leg upwards. Before attempting this pose, one must prepare the body and mind by learning and practicing the preparatory poses regularly.

PRANAYAMA – Breathwork for a healthy heart

Next, let us discuss breathing practices. The heart center is governed by the element of air. Yoga postures aimed at balancing the heart center involve working with the supporting muscles and organs around the heart to give the chest cavity space in order to breathe fully! Taking conscious inhales and exhales relaxes the body and mind. One technique I like to use for this is alternate nostril breathing. By practicing alternate nostril breathing, we are working towards bringing balance to the polarized energies we each have within us: heating/cooling, male/female, fight or flight/rest and digest.  For those heart heavy days, it is amazing how a simple practice such as this one can change how you feel for the better! Heres how to practice two cycles of Nadi Shodhana.

Come to sit in a comfortable position, either on a chair with feet flat on the floor or on a cushion in a cross-legged position. Sit up tall. Using your dominant hand, fold the first and middle finger in towards the palm, leaving the ring finger, pinky finger and thumb extended. Now, take the thumb and ring finger to the bridge of your nose, and then slide the fingers down the nose until they meet the place where the nostrils flare.

  • Plug the left nostril and inhale through the right.
  • Plug the right nostril and exhale through the left.
  • Inhale through the left nostril.
  • Plug the left nostril and exhale through the right.
  • Inhale through the right nostril.
  • Plug the right nostril and exhale through the left.
  • Inhale through the left nostril.
  • Plug the left nostril and exhale through the right.

Let both hands rest on the knees and breathe normally for a few cycles of breath. Notice how you feel. You can practice this for more than two cycles at a time, but before you finish, make sure you exhale through the right nostril first, then relax and breathe normally.

ANAHATA – A meditation for the Heart Chakra

Anahata means unstruck or unhurt. This chakra is located behind the sternum bone in the center of our chest and it is associated with the glowing color of emerald green. Anahata is connected to our sense of touch so the hands directly communicate with our heart. To tap into your heart center, bring your two hands together in Anjali Mudra, a hand gesture that symbolizes love and peace. It looks just like prayer hands. Place your hands in front of your heart. In connecting the right side with left, we complete the circle of energy between the hands and the heart. This balances the right and the left side of the brain thus bringing us into a place of total awareness. Sit for a moment, breathing consciously and focusing your attention on the heart center to see what thoughts, sensations or emotions come up.  Allow yourself to just experience them for what they are, without any judgments and then let them pass.

*Reference – The Woman’s Book of Yoga and Health by Linda Sparrowe and Patricia Walden

*Reference – Guiding Yoga’s Light by Nancy Gerstein

What exactly is yoga?

The new year is here and as they say, out with the old and in with the new! We see yoga everywhere and hear of its many benefits, therefore there is no better time to start a yoga practice than the present moment. If you are considering the practice or wondering if yoga is something for you, you might be wondering about the different styles of classes and which one(s) is right for you.

Yoga is defined as the union between body, mind, and soul. Physical postures, breathing exercises and quieting the mind (also known as meditation) are practiced together with the purpose of understanding ourselves on a deeper and more spiritual level. It is through the practice that we learn what causes discomfort like pain, anxiety and stress. The practice teaches us how to develop the life skills needed to lessen our suffering. To put it simply, yoga is for everyone and can benefit us all on different levels. The yoga that you practice will be much different than that of the person next to you because no two people are alike. The most wonderfully relieving aspect of yoga is that you do not have to be a certain color, sex, gender, weight, height, body type or religion to practice. There is something for everyone if you so choose to explore the vast amount of styles and techniques that are out there.

As a teacher, I have had many of my students ask, what is the difference between Hatha Yoga and Vinyasa Yoga? The two styles share many similar qualities so it is common to have this question. Here are the big differences between the two that I believe will bring awareness to what each practice is for and how it can help you.

Hatha Yoga commonly referred to as Sun-Moon yoga. “Ha” = Lifeforce. “Tha” = mental of the human form. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, an ancient Sanskrit text, outlines how to practice 33 physical postures called asana and also breath work called pranayama. Through regular practice of these postures and breathing exercises, the student will learn how to bring harmony and balance to the physical body and the energetic body. It teaches you how to access your inner energy and use it safely to control the fluctuations of the mind. Taking Hatha class will help you to refine your postures and your breath work because the pace tends to be slow and depending on the teacher, a lot of information and cues are given.

Vinyasa means “to place in a special way” and connects two or more postures together with breath. Vinyasa yoga places more emphasis on creating breath-body links to create a more vigorous practice. It flows like a dance and demands an understanding of ujjayi breath (victorious breath). A master Vinyasa teacher carefully and intentionally takes the student through a series of postures linked together with breath to intelligently warm parts of the body and to prepare the student mentally for what is to come next. Vinyasa yoga teachers create artful and creative sequences that will often lead you to a peak pose! There is now over 1,300 yoga poses so teaching vinyasa yoga gives the teacher an opportunity to incorporate many different postures into a sequence. Taking vinyasa class will help you to build the strength and stamina to advance your practice so it is important to first have a thorough understanding of the foundations of basic asanas.

I too had this question when I wanted to deepen my understanding of yoga. This helpful diagram shows other styles of yoga and outlines their differences very well! It even gives you a bit of a timeline for when each style was developed.

More recently, I have discovered the profound effects of therapeutic and restorative yoga. These styles of yoga are ideal for those who are looking for relaxation, stress relief, injury management and a slow meditative class pace. These practices invite you to drop into a restful state, allowing the nervous system to soften and restore to a place of harmonious balance.

In general, all yoga comes from Hatha Yoga and all are meant to prepare your body for deep meditation. Through meditation, we understand our true selves. When we understand our true self, we become more connected with the divine, source, the universe and thus, our suffering lessens.

Featured Image – Abstract Flowers 3X4

May the new year bring contentment

The tradition goes, when the New Year rolls around we are awarded a clean slate and the chance to start over by dreaming up fresh ideas and intentions. We get to plant the seeds of personal development and growth. We get to set our declarations to make the necessary changes in order to live the best life we can envision for ourselves.

I do like this tradition because it is a positive and motivating practice and as the saying goes, “thoughts are things, so choose good ones!” How I perceive the world around me affects the outcomes of my endeavors. Each year, I take time to make a vision board for myself and as the year goes by, I enjoy having this visual to record and see my achievements as they unfold. There is one problem though. After giving the New Year Resolution thing some deeper thought, I realized that in the efforts of setting intentions to make “necessary” changes to my life each year, I am also implying that I am not satisfied with how my life already is! Some might argue that I am subconsciously and simultaneously planting seeds of dissatisfaction and emptiness. I’ve decided that instead of resolving to change things about my life that I don’t approve of, I will give thanks that my life is just as it is. All year long I have been taking steps towards the things that make my heart and mind happy. This has been huge for me and so my plan is to simply continue to trust in my process and follow the path I have forged with compassion, unconditional love, and JOY. New Years is time to celebrate everything that I already AM.

In yoga philosophy, the word Santosha means contentment. Santosha is one of the 5 Niyamas; Niyamas are 5 principals for observing our internal behaviors. To practice Santosha, one chooses to view their reality from a place of non-judgment in order to see life just as it is through uncolored lenses. We see where we are along our path and where we would like to go. We then take mindful steps towards the goals and aspirations we wish to attain and in the process, resolve to be happy with whatever outcome the Universe has in store. The magical bonus feeling that comes from this practice is JOY — The ability to simply be happy with life exactly as it is. What an interesting phenomenon!

I’d like to share a quote from Buddhist teacher Michael Stone – I think what he had to say about mindfulness encompasses what I am hoping to express about Santosha and how it applies to the way we can choose to enter into 2018.

“When we accept what is in this very moment, without pushing or pulling, when there is no running after or running away from, we find in our practice a level of deep acceptance and peace.”

Happy New Year!!! May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be safe, may you be free of suffering and may you continue to walk down the path that leads to the greatest and truest version of yourself. Namaste friends — the light within me, sees and acknowledges the light that is within you.

To attain clarity, allow confusion.

I’m approaching the two-year mark since my yoga-injury occurred and within that time, I was able to carve out physical and mental space for reflection. When I got injured, my primary focus in the practice of yoga was physical postures or “asana.” I was not physically ready to do some of the poses that I was practicing but because I was so excited about the possibilities, I believe I misunderstood a lot of warnings that I was consistently receiving from deep within myself.

What I experienced is destabilization in my sacral iliac joint. This is the place where your sacral bone connects to the lower lumbar spine by fibrous ligaments. It is by design a very strong area since it’s responsible for bearing the weight of your upper body, but it also does not take much to aggravate this area. As someone who has hypermobility within my hips (which is determined through testing) my yoga practice wasn’t developing in a safe way by choosing to take advanced, fast-paced classes. Sciatica, lower back pain and an incredibly deep wound to my ego were the results. It was truly difficult to adapt to the abrupt change.

The experience is unfortunate, yes, but I am grateful for it because I believe that I had to go through it in order to learn to have more respect for my body and myself and ultimately to respect the practice of yoga asana.

Nearly two years later, I am over the hump of healing. I am back to a state of harmony in my mind and body and I have emotionally and physically healed from the experience, but it was not a simple task. It took a lot of courage to stop doing a practice that was aggravating my condition. My yoga practice was at the time, the antidote to a lifelong battle of anxiety and low self-confidence. Therefore, it required an even more uncomfortable willingness to be still, be mindful and begin a process of self-realization.

Serendipitously, a few new practices seemed to present themselves at the appropriate time, which helped tremendously during my phase of healing: Therapeutic Yoga and Ayurveda. I hadn’t given either of these practices much thought before since all of my attention was directed towards learning advanced yoga postures. Without the ability to practice the physically demanding, I had more room in my life for these new teachings.

On Yoga Therapy

 Yoga therapy, as defined by the American Viniyoga Institute, is an approach to physical practice that “adapts the various means and methods of practice to the unique condition, needs, and interests of each individual – giving each practitioner the tools to individualize and actualize the process of self-discovery and personal transformation.” Viniyoga taught me to pay closer attention to the function of asana instead of the form. In his book Yoga for Wellness, Gary Kraftsow explains a common misconception in yoga –

Unfortunately, chief among the popular misconceptions about yoga (including among many practitioners and even teachers of yoga) is the idea that the value of each posture lies in achieving its precise, fixed form. Thus, the emphasis has too often been placed on superficial details of positioning and the development of the body in the direction of preconceived, external standards of perfection – and the forms have been crystallized into rigid, static postures in which the living quality of the asana is lost.

One of the most important questions I learned to ask myself is what makes my condition feel better and what makes it feel worse? It was through a daily conversation with myself that I learned to use yoga method and techniques in physically functional ways to bring a sense of wellness and to lean away from those that aggravated and worsened my situation. This more subtle approach to asana was so encouraging because I started to see results through the lessening of pain and inflammation. With hope restored, I believe that I had not lost my practice. Instead, I refined it by learning to use asana as a tool to stimulate health instead of increasing stress and most likely, reinforcing my bad habits.

On Ayurveda

 Ayurveda is a traditional system of ancient medicine and healing via individualized self-empowerment through the learned awareness of imbalance within one’s self. An imbalance is typically in the form of dis-ease. The way one is able to determine imbalance is by looking at what is in excess based on the current state of diet and behaviors.

Ayurveda is one of the Vedic sciences, so it shares a lot of the same principals as yoga. One shared principal that I find fascinating is that it is a system of wellness through self-realization. Yoga is a triad of asana (physical postures), pranayama (breathing exercises) and meditation (sustained, prolonged focus) with asana being the most external practice and meditation being the most internal. Ayurveda is the study of the three original energies called Doshas – Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Here is a brief explanation of each –

  • Vata = That which moves.
  • Pitta = That which digests or transforms.
  • Kapha = That which supports and holds together.

In order to understand them, you must explore your own unique external and internal influences to discover the root cause of an imbalance. Lifestyle and diet are examples of external and internal influences. Also, consider that each person is born with a unique set of qualities like personality and body type and that plays a big role as well. Once you discover the root of imbalance, you can begin by inviting in the opposing qualities to encourage evenness.

I started to look at my self from a doshic perspective — the qualities of my physical, emotional and mental state from the perspective of what balance feels like in contrast to what imbalance feels like. Another important question that I learned to ask myself was what am I inviting into my life that is aggravating and causing an excess of one or more dosha? What opposing qualities can I bring in to encourage equilibrium? What I discovered was illuminating! Here I am, a yoga practitioner with a predisposition to hypermobile hips and anxiety practicing fast flowing advanced yoga. I could argue that I was aggravating Pitta and Vata. It is no wonder that I benefited more from the slower more Kaphic practices like therapeutic yoga. This was a beautiful and intriguing piece of a very large puzzle that didn’t end there. Really, I had only just stepped onto the path of true self-discovery and self-mastery! I was given fresh insight in order to get closer to being able to close my own case.

To build up
Dismantle first
To expand
Contract first
To attain clarity
Allow confusion
To become civilized
First live in the wild
The balance of all things
Is in their opposites;
The truth points in both directions.
Thus the clenched fist holds weakness within
And the open hand offers the hidden power of suns.
–Haven Trevino, Tao of Healing, Meditation 51
Featured Image — One-hour meditation painting –Coastal View 4X6 by Alexis Shahin

The Travelers Yoga Kit

Sadhana is your set of spiritual practices and disciplines that create oneness within yourself. For a lot of people, Sadhana is a daily routine that includes the same mediation, breathing, and yoga exercises. For me, I have come to embrace sadhana in a different way. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said “change is the only constant in life” and I have opened my heart and mind to full acceptance of this in my yoga practice. As my body changes, my practice will change. Sometimes our daily routine outside of our sadhana will change and I think it is good to be prepared for this.

I recently traveled to Italy, Spain, and Demark with my husband for our honeymoon. We were away for 3 weeks! As a yoga practitioner with a couple of old injuries that create problematic spots in my body, I had my concerns. For example, what if I have a sciatic nerve flare up, I stay at the hotel resting and I miss out on all the incredible adventures? Experiencing pain in the body is frustrating and can be a real drag at home so I could only imagine how it could negatively affect my experience overseas in a city that is different from my own. Just the idea of this inspired me to think of a solution for the potential problem at hand. My husband put a lot of time and effort into planning the honeymoon of our dreams and so I became determined to create a plan for self-care, a sadhana that would invite stability into my daily routine during a time of constant change and unknown possibilities. I would be ready for anything so that I could enjoy this trip with as little or no physical discomfort.

I sat down one day to do a little self-analysis. I made a list of all the worst-case scenarios I have already encountered and what techniques I used at home for relief. I then decided to put together a Yoga Emergency Kit for my trip. This kit includes all of my favorite travel-friendly yoga tools.

The following list is what I’d like to think of as the essential list:

  1. Two small rubber massage balls – Pictured are Yoga Tune Up balls which are easy to pack because they come with their own storage sack. Personally, I like something softer; so I buy inflatable balls at the 99 Cents Store. I included a travel size air pump so that I could deflate the balls for efficient packing; then inflate them when I want to use them at our hotel room. These are for self-massaging on any part of the body. I use the balls to massage my upper back by starting from the base of my neck and going down to the bottom of my rib cage. This gets in-between the shoulder blades to relax stiffness in my neck. I also massage my S.I. joint, which is located at the back of the pelvis, and my outer hips. Massaging this area really helps me keep my sciatica symptoms at a minimum. This self-massage is done while lying down on my back on the floor of our hotel room and positioning the balls between the floor and targeted areas on my back.
  2. One 8-foot yoga strap – This is a classic yoga prop that many are familiar with when taking public yoga classes. I use the strap to safely release hamstrings and lower back by doing Supta Padagustasana A, B and C. I also use the strap the Iyengar way for Downward Facing Dog pose by looping the strap around the handles of a door.
  3. Essential oils – Lemon, Orange, Peppermint, and Lavender. Lemon and Orange are great for digestion (constipation, upset stomach). In my experience, when the gut is unhappy, the rest of the body suffers. I found that many of my aches and pains surface when I am not properly digesting and eliminating. Peppermint is used to soothe sore feet and muscles. I apply a couple drops straight onto the soles of my feet for instant relief. For sore muscles, I mix one drop with a small amount of coconut oil and then rub my shoulders and low back. The cool sensation is so relaxing. One drop under the tongue freshens your breath and also aids in digestion. One drop in a handkerchief clears your nasal passages if you have a stuffy nose. The oil lasts a very long time when you apply it to cloth or a tissue, so you can keep this handkerchief on you all day long for instant sinus relief. Lavender helps you to rest and relax so that you can get a good night sleep. Rub a drop between the palms, breathe deeply and notice how it shifts your energetic state. Bonus use – It also subsides the itch you get from mosquito bites!
  4. Meditation App for your electronic device. Having guided meditations or a meditation timer at your fingertips really helps to make meditation easy and accessible.
  5. Earplugs – These are wonderful for pranayama and meditation practice while on the go. I found that if I have earplugs in and I am meditating on the sound of my breath, the external distractions are reduced so I am able to better concentrate on the soothing sound of air passing through my body. This technique is inspired by the Shanmuki mudra, which is done by using the fingertips to close off the senses (ears, eyes, lips, nose). I find earplugs are more relaxing because I can let my arms relax by my sides.
  6. Journal/sketch pad – Creating art is therapy. The more you can relax your brain through creative exercises, the happier and more relaxed your nervous system will be. Making a conscious effort towards relaxing the nervous system has helped me to reduce inflammation in my body.
  7. Mala beads – This ancient counting tool has helped people to meditate for thousands of years. I use mine for chanting and counting my prayers. Like journaling and sketching, using the mala counting system helps to relax my mind and body.

I had great success with this homemade emergency yoga kit! Feel free to use my list and add some items of your own! It is empowering to be able to apply the health and wellness techniques I have learned over the years while being outside of my comfort zone. I appreciate my yoga and meditation practice so much more now that I have put my knowledge to the test. As I become more conscious of how and what I invite into my life, I can make better choices that honor the constant ebbs and flow of nature and of life. Instead of resisting change, I find that I can flow with it by fully trusting in my own powers of self-healing.

“Man is made or unmade by himself. In the armory of thought, he forges the weapons by which he destroys himself. He also fashions the tools with which he builds for himself heavenly mansions of joy and strength and peace.” – William James

3 tips for creating daily meditation

I have noticed that more and more people are looking to develop a regular (dare I say, daily?) meditation practice! It makes me happy to see that many of my friends and family are catching on to something that has been around for many years. Meditation! When I started meditating, I struggled with creating consistency in my practice. I notice that others are experiencing the same struggle early on in their practice so I thought I would share what has helped me in my journey.

Here are 3 ways to start practicing and creating a routine that will open you up to a daily meditation practice that works for you!

1) I place my body in the position that is most comfortable for me. Sitting in a chair, lying down or sitting on a cushion on the floor are all great options and one is not better than the other. It’s less challenging if you start out feeling supported and comfortable. I took a meditation class once and the teacher said to us “If you are suffering during your meditation (feeling pain in your body) then that is on you. Make any adjustments necessary to feel comfortable. There is no need to cause yourself pain.” Give yourself permission to be in a state of relaxation before you even begin.

2) I pick the same spot each time to meditate. There is something about returning to the same place that really helps to establish the routine. If you think about it, we do this already. We routinely brush our teeth and take a shower at the same place every day in order to take care of our hygiene. The same can work for cleaning the mind. I have a favorite meditation spot in my home, a favorite bench at my local park and I even sit in my car (when not driving) to meditate. Personally, I love nature, so I select places that expose me to the sounds of birds chirping, the warm sun on my skin, the coolness of the wind, earthy smells and a nice view.  All of these sensory satisfactions play into my experience of turning inward.

3) I use a timer and listen to guided meditations. At first, I had more success using guided meditations for daily practice. This is because it offers you something to “do” while meditating. There are so many different types of guided meditations and I am positive you will discover one that interests you! Eventually, I transitioned to the timer. I started with 1 minute of meditation and worked my way up. I like to use a timer because it tracks my progression. I am the type of person who feels accomplished when I see progress. I really like the Insight Timer because it has a feature called “milestones.” Every time you complete a milestone, you get a star. To me, these stars are a treat for the job well done. This has worked really well for me because it serves as motivation to keep up the momentum.

I felt the biggest shift in my meditation practice when I stopped attaching myself to what it was supposed to look like and started opening up my mind to how it works. Meditation, to put simply, is mindfulness. To me, it is slowing down all the rapid thoughts and observing them without judgment. It is a state of awareness where I can be self-reflective and calm. Anything can be a meditation if you look at it from this perspective. You can make gardening a meditation, walking on the beach a meditation, brushing your teeth a meditation, swimming a meditation, yoga a meditation or sitting still a meditation. It’s really entirely up to you!

If you are someone who is looking to create a regular meditation practice, I’d like to encourage you by saying you can do it! I started in February of 2017 and now have a daily meditation practice. It has helped me tremendously in my life. I feel less stressed and genuinely happier! I get better sleep, have wonderful dreams and have been more creative with my time during the day. I look forward to my sessions because I like the feeling of being mentally relaxed and I feel empowered knowing that I can do it all on my own through the simple act of meditation.

I hope these tips help you to design the practice that best suits your style! Let me know your thoughts in the comments below! I would love to hear from you.

If you are interested in reading more, please read this short summary I have written on sutras 1.17- 1.23. Patanjali discusses the practice of meditation in these sutras. You can read it here.

Welcome home. Welcome new perspectives.

Travel is awesome. It always leaves me feeling like I have experienced life through the lenses of a child. Everything is new and my curiosity is at its peak. After returning home from a fantastic trip with my husband to Italy, Spain, and Demark, I started thinking about perspective and how one’s own perspective changes how we experience reality. There is an example of the power of perception that I love from the book Nourishing the Teacher by Danny Arguetty. The book asks you to think of the definition of darkness. What is darkness? For most, it is defined as the absence of light. Scientifically speaking it’s quite the opposite; darkness is actually defined as an area or space with low light. So you see, even within the darkness, there is the presence of light, and therefore everything is, in fact, a matter of perspective. It’s how we choose to see things. When I am traveling, I am choosing to see these places through the lenses of someone who has never been before (because I have never been there before). I see how people live their lives, what food they eat, what customs they practice, and I am overjoyed by the experience! It allows me to open up to new ways of thinking and being. But, what if I could choose to see the mundane in the same way? The routine I have back home. What if I could look at the repetitious way I live my life, what food I eat and what customs I practice from the vantage point of someone who has never done it before. What an intriguing idea!

I think this could be a fun experiment on the yoga mat. Every time we come to class, we can expect to practice the sun salutations, standing poses, some form of back bend, inversion, and twist. It’s an absolute joy to do and feel the safety and security of the movements that bring balance and ease to our bodies, but can we explore something new each time whether it’s the first, tenth or one-hundredth time? Perhaps it’s the way we transition in and out of each pose. The choice we make in where we set our gaze. Can we see something different like the way the light reflects or casts shadows on the walls? Can we invite the mind to take the breath to places we have never felt before? We can choose a different place in the room to set up our mat or perhaps grab a prop that we don’t usually go for. There are endless ways to be creative and invite a fresh perspective to your practice. The Dali Lama has a wonderful quote that I think adds a bit of richness to this idea: “A new way of thinking has become the necessary condition for responsible living and acting. If we maintain obsolete values and beliefs, a fragmented consciousness, and self-centered spirit, we will continue to hold on to outdated goals and behaviors.” To me this means, there is always room for growth and it all starts with how we choose to open our minds by inviting in a fresh perspective.