3 things to tone this summer.

It’s the second-most wonderful time of the year: Sunshine! Sweating! Swamp-hair! Summer! It’s easy to get caught up in toning your ‘swim-suit-body’ but instead, think outside the box by tuning in to what your body, mind and spirit really need this summer. 

3 (different) things to tone this summer:

1. Your Hip Flexors. Strong hip flexors keep us moving forward in life– running, jogging, walking and having fun– but they get tight from sitting for extended periods of time (cross country road trips, anyone?) and can lead to low back discomfort. “Hip Flexors” is a non-specific term applied to muscles that bring your hip joint into flexion (closing the gap between your thigh and your belly). Taking time to do a few lunges might sound silly (Thanks, Joey) but can be really effective in both strengthening and stretching your ilio-psoas muscle group.

Start in a simple lunge with the back knee down and top of foot flat on the floor. Take your hands to your hips to make sure your hip points are level and even. After 10 inhales, replace your hands to the ground and lift your back knee without tucking your toes. Hold for 5 counts. Lower the knee back down and repeat the sequence twice more. Switch legs and repeat.

2. Your Plantar Fascia.

Two words: sandal season. Not only are we increasing mileage in our running shoes, but we’re also slipping on sandals for quick walks. Sandals host notoriously terrible arch support and easily incite foot pain. Grab a RAD Round or tennis ball and prop it under the middle of your arch. Apply gentle pressure and roll your foot lengthwise on the ball. Also try “pumping” your foot (like you are applying the brakes while driving) with the ball right at the junction of the heel and the arch. This action gets the Achilles’ tendon in there, too.

3. Your Relaxation Response.

In summer, our energetic output increases exponentially– not only are the days longer, but we can’t bear to miss out on any social engagement or chance to travel. Full-on-summer-engagement can leave us feeling frazzled and in need of a good 2 day nap. Instead, use Crocodile Pose to re-boot your energy by calming down your neurological system and toning your Relaxation Response. Relaxation Response describes the effects of the “rest and digest” side of our physiological parasympathetic system. Ideally, we’d like to tap into our Relaxation Response seamlessly so we feel cool, calm, collected and refreshed most of the time. Meditation is a great way to do this; Crocodile Pose is the best, though!

Lie down on your belly, placing your forehead on your hands. Mindfully slow down your breathing and feel your diaphragm strengthen and tone as it presses into the floor with each inhale. Stay this way for 6- 8 minutes and you’ll feel completely refreshed and rejuvenated when you get up– like you’ve just left a Hawaiian spa.

Let me know what you’ve toned. Have a happy, and health summer!

-lisa

the big question of svadhyaya.

I am the kind of person who knows EXACTLY what she wants to order before even suggesting we get ice cream. Which is why, when I am feeling indecisive or am around an indecisive person, it just about kills me. I know this about myself, I don’t even pretend to apologize for it because it’s authentic. But I also predict that I would (probably) live a more vibrant life if I could be more spontaneous (potentially) or accommodating to people who like to make spur-of-the-moment decisions (maybe). Either way, I know this about myself because I’ve done A LOT of self-study of my habits and tendencies (and also anxiety levels while waiting in line for my Ironman to decide which frozen custard to order.)

Svadhyaya is the intent to know yourself at your deepest, most authentic level through self-reflection and self-study. In yoga philosophy it is one of the five niyamas (personal practices) and it is important because our concepts of who we are determine how we see and interact with the world. My concept of who I am determines small decisions (like if I’m the kind of person who eats a cinnamon roll or a bag of broccoli) and determines big life-changing decisions (like if I’m the kind of person who stays at a job that is unnecessarily stressful and brings me closer to plucking my eyes out than it does to filling my bank account or the kind of person who is willing to quit and move on to a more fulfilling life.)

As life coach and author Martha Beck writes, “Our whole lives, all the actions we take are based on our concepts of who we are. Not knowing that one crucial fact undermines everything we feel, say or do.” According to Patanjali, author of the Yoga Sutras and this Martha lady, I sure as heck better figure out who I think I am.

Svadhyaya, or self-study, means that I should consciously and continuously seek insight, knowledge and wisdom that helps me understand myself better and that leads me toward emotional freedom, vibrant living and spiritual wholeness. I truly can’t think of a better life task.

One way to do this is through the study of sacred and inspiring texts. Read my current recommended list of svadhyaya titles here.

Another way to practice svadhyaya is through contemplation– asking the Big Questions. I wrote about a phenomenal practice to uncover the True Self through contemplation based on Deepak Chopra’s Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga back in 2015. You’ll definitely want to re-visit these posts; they get to the core of identity, ego and how to define/refine yourself on your own terms, not by labels that have been thrust on you by other people:

who am I? 

what is my driving desire?

how can I serve?

Currently, I’m meandering through a state-of-mind Martha Beck calls Dreaming and Scheming, so my self-study is honed on my need to be creative and my desire to thrive. My Big Svadhaya Question is this: “When do I feel fully and truly authentic, vibrant and alive?”

Of course, this is easier to answer when I already feel vibrant and alive. (Even imagining vibrant aliveness is oh-so-difficult when I’m down in the dumps… or a little tired… or hungry… or have the worst allergies… or am feeling disappointed about my yoga studio… or all the many things that make life so “lifey.”) So if you don’t have an answer today– I get it. I share this question with you because it’s helped me uncover who I am, define a concept of myself that I appreciate and continue an ardent svadhyaya self-study.

I’d love for you to consider it, sit with it for a few days, and then shoot me your answer. When do YOU feel fully and truly authentic, vibrant and alive?

One thing that helps me get in the mood for contemplating Big Questions is to take a few moments of silence beforehand.

Try one of my Free Guided Audio Meditations here: Guided Meditations

Or use this technique, which I first learned from Martha Beck:

Can’t wait to hear your answer–Happy Self-Study.

recommended yoga readings 2018: svadhyaya

At any one time, I’m concurrently reading a slew of books: half-finished books about yoga, spirituality, meditation, brain-based research, Harry Potter and random novels litter my house. (It’s immensely more reasonable now that I have a Kindle and can check out as many e-books as I want. I can hide an entire library in my backpack!)

This natural inclination toward curiosity, seeking and reading led me to hundreds of inspiring texts when I first started teaching yoga and studying philosophy. Twelve years later, my bookshelves are bursting with insight and wisdom.

In yoga philosophy, the study of great texts is called svadhyaya and it is one of the five niyamas (personal considerations). The other niyamas are: saucha (purity), santosha (contentment), tapas (exploration) and isvara-pranidana (devotion). Svadhyaya invites serious yoga students to continue their study of yoga off the mat on your own time— seeking out wisdom from sources other than your direct teacher.

This is practiced by studying texts from your personal faith tradition, from the yoga tradition or any other work that inspires and deepens wisdom. It also means “self-study,” as in, literally studying the self.

Svadhyaya is any activity that cultivates self-reflective consciousness. It means developing the reflexive skill of refining your perpetual thoughts and habits (vritts) to live more authentically and in line with the yamas and niyamas.

Because I love love love books, I always have a list of recommendations — these books are approachable reads that will inspire your continued study and a happier, healthier life.

You are Here by Thich Nhat Hanh

Miracles Now by Gabrielle Bernstein

Real Love by Sharon Salzberg

Small Victories by Anne Lamott

Finding Your True North Star by Martha Beck

The Path of the Yoga Sutras by Nicolai Bachman (this one is for sale at Westport Yoga KC — come in and grab one after your next yoga class!)

Also, check out my recommended svadhyaya reading list from 2014 (start with these books if you are interested in learning the roots of yoga.)

Happy reading, can’t wait to find out what you learned!

-lisa

3 ways to de-stress.

  1. Hold your breath. Your body is ultra-smart when it comes to detecting changes in the pH levels of your blood. Hold your breath, count to ten and then take a HUGE exhale. This triggers your chemoreceptors to tell your brain and your lungs that your body could benefit from more oxygen. Taking a  huge exhale sends the message that it’s safe to de-stress and get back on track after a stressful trigger.
  2. Laugh (really loudly). The 10th cranial nerve is the Vagus nerve; it innervates essential organs and communicates directly with the diaphragm, the major breathing muscle in the body. It’s no secret that deep breathing promotes stress reduction—but add some sound to that breath and your positive vibes double. The Vagus nerve also innervates the larynx, so laugh loudly (joyfully, not obnoxiously) and feel your stress melt away.
  3. Meditate. Meditation reduces stress by teaching your mind to uni-task, instead of being distracted and stressed by multi-tasking a million things. Just ten minutes of daily meditation has positive effects on your immune system, your focus and your stress-level.

Ready to learn more? Join Lisa in her next 3 week course:

Introduction to Meditation for Stress Relief.

Thursday mornings 9-11 am June 7, June 14 and June 21, 2018 at Westport Yoga KC.

Course Details and Registration Information found at: Westport Yoga KC.

Also check out these blog posts for more de-stressing ideas:

Stress Less

Quick Fix: Stress Free in 60 Seconds

Thoughts Like a Calm Ocean

See you in class– happy de-stressing.

tapas: not just for happy hour.

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive.” -Harold Whitman

Last month I received one of the best compliments ever in the history of Lisa-compliments. (It was second-hand, but repeated by a trusted source, so I’m going with it.) “Lauren said you don’t do anything until you know EVERYTHING about it. Like you’re an expert.”

Omygosh to be called an expert is just, for me, like the best thing. (Next to being a called an incredible dog mom and a trustworthy friend.) Because learning makes me come alive. I have an insatiable curiosity to know more, search harder, dig deeper and seek with greater clarity.  Specifically when it comes to yoga, teaching, meditating and spiritual development, I’m going to read every book and take every class and learn every thing so I can become an informed, graceful, inspiring and expert teacher.

I’m not interested in competing with others to “THE BEST,” but I want to be the BEST for me. Because my Soul is fulfilled and inspired when I’m teaching. That is my dharma.

In my previous post, I introduced the niyama of tapas: the personal commitment of developing curiosity, the spirit of exploration and zeal for life. Tapas is the fancy Yoga Sanskrit word for passion.

And without it, our sense of curiosity grows dull. We feel discontent.

Living with tapas has very little to do with success… because we tend to define success by other people’s standards anyway.

Living with tapas means asking the deep questions and then being brave enough to follow the answers.

What really inspires your curiosity? When do you feel most fulfilled? What makes your Soul come alive? 

Ask these questions… listen deeply, and then go do it. Because the world really needs more people whose Souls are alive.

Happy Tapas,

-lisa

P.S. if you also love learning, check out my Upcoming Events + Workshops and Yoga Teacher Training events in 2018. All details here.

do it with passion, or not at all: tapas.

Right after I announced that I was purchasing Westport Yoga KC one year ago, my student Ginny gave me this card. I taped it in the front of my lesson plan notebook; so I would see it every day.

Do it with passion, or not at all.

This just about covers the idea of tapas from our study of yoga philosophy. Tapas is a niyama, a personal consideration. We’ve already discussed the first two of the five niyamas: saucha (self-care) and santosha (contentment) in previous posts. Both saucha and santosha sound pleasant and gentle and a perhaps a slightly idealistic: character traits developed by spending my days lounging in daisy covered hillsides singing show-tunes with Olaf and Julie Andrews.

But tapas? Zest, zeal, curiosity, unrestrained passion and discipline? THAT, I can get behind. My eyes light up when the words “curiosity, challenge and exploration” are thrown into the game. I’m notorious for doing things with passion or not doing them at all. Go big or go home.

Like this yoga studio I decided to purchase, which was my home base for offering yoga teachings in my community and was also totally floundering financially when I stepped in. Or when I decided to compete in my first trail race and ended up running one at altitude in Salida, Colorado the day after climbing a 14er (and of course, sleeping in a van). If I’m going to do it: I’m going to do it really, really big, which lots of passion, zest, zeal and a spirit of curiosity. Tapas.

The spirit of tapas asks: What are you doing when you feel most fully alive? And then says: Go do it.

In yoga, we call it ‘living your dharma.’ Dharma doesn’t necessitate that your passion is your profession. (This can often lead to burn out; remember this story about caramel brownies?) Understanding dharma is understanding that we each have something significant to contribute to the larger macrocosm of the world; we each have the potential of living our fullness on an individual level. It’s finding the way to express our tapas, our curiosity, our unique talents and then doing it with passion.

“When you are thriving, when you are serving your highest purpose, you are, in fact serving the highest purpose of everything else.” -Rod Stryker

This month in my blog series we’ll discuss how tapas (zeal, exploration) and dharma (meaning, purpose) interrelate and how these concepts help you Follow Your Bliss.

Our jumping off point is Saturday April 7, 2018: “Follow Your Bliss” a Stay-Cation Yoga Retreat. Together we’ll delve into the ideas of dharma, tapas and personal fulfillment, learning how to use rituals, meditation and yoga to follow bliss and potential.

Registration includes: 5+ hours of yoga practice, healthy snacks, fresh-pressed juice, take-home exclusive essential oil blend for self-massage and a day of soul exploration.

Register online:Westport Yoga KC (spots are extremely limited and these retreats always sell out!)

Happy Passionate Living,

-lisa

the contents of my Soul: santosha

When I picture my Soul, I often picture it as a treasure box. As I move through my life, I collect trinkets to store in this treasure box for safe keeping. I’ve collected experiences of mountain-top serenity, phenomenal sunsets over the ocean, memories of juicy summer-ripe fruit shared with my grandmas, hilariously weird and awkward moments with my girlfriends, minutes of complete and utter bliss in meditation. I’ve also collected outbursts of anger, unjustified frustration directed toward the wrong (mostly innocent) person, days and days and days worth of worrying over future life and career choices.

Yoga philosophy tells me that every word, thought, action or impression I come in contact with is stored in my citta, which is the fancy Sanskrit name for ‘heart-mind-Soul consciousness’. (You can read more about it in this post.) I’m continually accumulating experiences to keep in my Soul treasure box, so what I want to know is: can I find contentment within the contents of my Soul?

Santosha, the personal practice of contentment, has to do with who I am, not what I have. (Remember how I need to stop buying jackets?)

This means I choose what I want the contents of my Soul to be. And you know what?

When I look inside my Soul Treasure Box, I want the contents to be bright and shiny and pure and free and full of love and light. I don’t want to carry around resentment toward the awful landlord who screamed his fool head off at me. Or unresolved grief over the loss of a dear friend. Or self-judgment over a job-half-well-done. These feelings are part of me being me (a human!) but they aren’t what I want to see when I open the contents of my Soul to examine them.

When learning santosha, reflect on these questions:

  • Do I feel contentment with the contents of my Soul?
  • What have I collected in my heart that makes me feel discontented?
  • What can I toss out in order to feel more contentment and fulfillment?

Happy Collecting,

-lisa

every day a gift: santosha

My natural inclination is to hit the ground running the moment my alarm goes off. And sometimes, I have to– teaching 6 am yoga classes means arriving at Westport Yoga KC at an indecent hour. 

But what I really crave is A Slow Morning. A morning that I can unwrap slowly, deliberately, with care and attention.

Years ago I was inspired by this quote from Thich Nhat Hanh and have held it close to my heart since. He says,

Every twenty-four hours is a tremendous gift to us. So we should all learn to live in a way that makes joy possible.”  

I’ve found that if I unwrap my morning slowly, like a precious gift, the possibility for joy, fulfillment and contentment increases exponentially. If I cherish my first stretch, spend an extra moment cuddling with Russell Clive, meditate first thing and drink my coffee slowly (from a real mug, not a travel mug), I start my day feeling tremendous contentment. I am ready to receive whatever the day has to offer.

It doesn’t mean that I’ll be HAPPY! every single moment of the rest of the day. Santosha, or contentment, is a difficult attitude to maintain. Because, let’s face it: happiness doesn’t always present itself tied up with a pretty ribbon every day. Some days go terribly wrong (hello, influenza B) and I’m frustrated, stressed and suffering.

Santosha is a possibility when I relinquish my expectations and choose instead to be grateful that I even get to open the gift of the day, regardless of what’s under the wrapping.

One way I increase my possibility for santosha is starting every morning in meditation– setting my intention that I’ll be open to receive. Whatever the day brings, I strive to stay open, grateful and aware of the preciousness of this day.

I hope this audio guided meditation helps you open to the possibilities of joy and santosha today.

“Open to Receive”

Happy Opening,

-lisa

Every twenty-four hours is a tremendous gift to us. So we should all learn to live in a way that makes joy possible.”  -TNH