cleansing breath routine to reduce stress.

“Our breath, like our heartbeat, is the most reliable rhythm in our lives. When we become attuned to this constant rhythm, our breath can gradually teach us to come back to the original silence of the mind.” -Donna Farhi

Every day while my laptop is powering up, I put a little dab of essential oils on my wrists, close my eyes and take three gargantuan breaths. With each big inhale and (obnoxiously loud) exhale, I push a re-set button; I update and restart again with a fresh perspective.

I’m a big believer in pranayama practice, which is the fancy Sanskrit name for specific breathing practices from the Yoga Tradition. I try to do a five to ten minute practice daily. but even a shortened breathing practice, like three big inhales and exhales before I open my inbox, is my go-to routine of self-care because it helps me transition from distracted to focused.

Maintaining a daily routine of anything (even eating 3 meals a day) is difficult for me; but when I do, I feel more balanced and whole. In the Yoga Tradition, living a balanced lifestyle is called brahmacharya. I introduced this concept on my blog previously in these articles: “balancing self-care: brahmacharya” and “yes please!“.

Brahmacharya shows up in our lives when we create routines that lead us away from distraction and instead lead us toward the constant, reliable rhythm of breath and inner contentment. As yoga teacher Donna Farhi reminds us in her classic Bringing Yoga to Life, our breath and our heartbeat are constant rhythmic reminders that a re-set is needed and helpful in maintaining a balanced life and inner contentment. Your breath is all you need.

New to pranayama breathing practices? Looking for a re-set button that reduces stress and helps you focus? Try this one:

Cleansing Exhale Practice: 7-5-3

  1. Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight and shoulders relaxed. Close your eyes.
  2. Take 3 comfortable inhales and exhales.
  3. Inhale through the nose for a count of seven.
  4. Retain the breath for a count of five.
  5. Exhale through the mouth, loudly and fully for the count of three.
  6. Repeat this 7-5-3 pattern three times.

Pause for a moment, breathing in and out of your nose without effort for a few rounds of breath. Notice how you feel. Gently open your eyes, refreshed and re-set.

I encourage you to add this to your morning routine; building a balanced and whole lifestyle starts a few minutes at a time, daily.

You can find additional Breathing Practices, which Audio to guide you, on my page Guided Meditation.

Happy Breathing,

-lisa

 

 

 

collect a reservoir of compassion.

“Practicing self-love means learning how to trust ourselves, to treat ourselves with respect and to be kind and affectionate with ourselves.” – Brene Brown

It’s surprising how quickly coin jars fill up. My Ironman and I occasionally drop spare change in a glass jar, which we joke is my tattoo fund, but we really end up emptying it for car washing and street parking the Adventure Van. Miraculously, it’s almost always full even though it collects coins one by one; it’s like drops of water filling a reservoir.

Compassion, too, is something we can collect and store up in our hearts little by little. It starts by learning to befriend ourselves, speak kindly to ourselves, forgive ourselves and eventually love ourselves. Every time we treat ourselves with loving-kindness, we create a well-spring of compassion from which we can draw from and extend to others.

Compassion is conscious awareness of suffering and a desire to relieve the suffering through an energetic response.

And anyone will tell you: it’s super hard to be compassionate towards other humans when you are tired, burnt-out, stressed-out and overall feeling gutted and empty.

So start with a few moments of self-love every day. Start by resting, breathing, eating well. Start collecting compassion one precious coin at a time. Begin filling a reservoir by choosing self-care (remember this post about the elements of self-care?) so that you can better love yourself and others.

Collect 6 minutes of compassion today by trying a Guided Meditation. Go buy a healthy snack. Take a walk in the sunshine. Write yourself a Positive Review. However you practice self-care, do it today.

Happy Collecting,

-lisa

write yourself a Positive Review.

write yourself a Positive Review.

Being an avid book reader, I’m constantly scanning book reviews for new reads. (See my list of best yoga books for 2018 here.) If the reviewer spends her entire paragraph criticizing the characters and plot, then offers a backhanded comment on how it’s a pretty good book and worth the read, I’m not into it. If the reviewer praises the book overall and offers poignant suggestions for improvement to the author, however, I’m on my way to the library. I’m all about the Positive Review.

The great thing is, in my life, I’m the Reviewer. And every single day I can write a Positive Review about my life. Sure, I could spend hours reviewing all the things that aren’t going well and are stressing me out (the vrittis of the mind will spiral continuously if we let them) or I could treat myself compassionately and practice non-harming by writing a Positive Review.

Ahimsa, which means non-harming and compassion, is the first Yama and most important tenant of Yoga Philosophy. (Remember this post about the marmots?) We practice ahimsa every day (and especially during every yoga practice) by choosing self-talk that is compassionate and non-judgmental. Since our confidence is intimately connected to the quality of our self-talk, I think it’s really really important to spend time cultivating compassionate and positive comments and reviews.

Sure, we can always pinpoint areas of our lives to improve and ways to grow; but today, practice a little more self-love than usual and write yourself a Positive Review.

You deserve it.

Happy Writing,

-lisa

self-care means NOT “pushing through.”

I saw a shocking post on Instagram the other day. A Yoga Teacher posted a gorgeous sunset-silhouette-yoga-pose picture and used her caption to complain about how run down and tired she was. Her head hurt, her tummy was upset, she felt weak. She then asked, “How do you push through?”

She was looking for affirmation to IGNORE every single signal her body was sending her… and yet somehow connecting this dissonance with yoga.

Oh girl, I thought. I DON’T “push through.” I take a nap.

 

I used to, like most of us, translate exhaustion as a status symbol and wear it like a badge of honor. But because of the refined awareness of my yoga practice and pratyahara, I now listen to what my body is telling me when it’s tired, grumpy, weak or upset. I try to respond completely and compassionately; I take a nap.

Yoga helps me listen to the information my body is giving me, (trying oh-so-diligently not to judge it— because the word “should” will be the death of me) so that I don’t “push through” to injury, exhaustion and irritation. Instead, I unabashedly practice self-care.

When napping just isn’t possible (hello, afternoon caffeine) I enjoy a quick 6 minute rejuvenation for my nervous system by listening to a Guided Meditation.

Here are my two favorite:

Breathing Mindfully

Body Scan for Relaxation

Still tired? Give your body a rest at my Restore and Meditate Classes taught weekly, Wednesdays at 6:00 pm – 7:15 pm at Westport Yoga KC.

Interested in learning more?

Join me for a 3 week course “Meditation for Stress Relief” Thursday mornings 9:00 am -11:00 am; September 13, 20 and 27, 2018

Register here.

Additional Audio Files for self-care found here: Guided Meditation.

Happy Not-Pushing-Through,

-lisa

the uphill part is really, really hard. and also worth it.

I’m not the biggest fan uphill. Even if it’s in a spectacularly gorgeous place, like Sequoia National Park, (which, thanks to my recent back country trip is my new favorite U.S. National Park) the “uphill” part of hiking isn’t my favorite.

Sequoia National Park was everything I wanted it to be: bursting to the brim with gargantuan trees and switchback hiking trails and boulder-strewn valleys and jagged horizons. I reflected on my Instagram feed about how quiet it was, noting: “There’s just something about being on trails where the only sounds are bird calls and insect conversations and rushing mountain streams. hiking boots crunch shale and the occasional breeze whistles through, but otherwise it’s just us and the trees standing proud, reverential and silent, surveying our descent into the valley below.”

And, let me tell you, the descent was steep. I know this, because I struggled with the weight of my backpack and a healthy dose of altitude sickness on the uphill part. )Of which, as previously mentioned, I’m not the biggest fan.) Mostly because of the short-of-breath-ness, and the fact that it usually looks impossible to walk to the top of the mountain pass from my vantage point, and also, it’s just plain hard work.

But, it is worth it. Because the views are insane. And there’s a power in rising to the challenge. And there’s a power in moving just one step beyond my perceived limitations. And there’s usually chocolate at the top.

One Mindfulness trick I use when I’m struggling to keep moving forward on a big uphill climb is the Counting Backwards method, courtesy of yoga teacher Erich Schiffman.

It works on a simple premise: When I’m in a place of mental discomfort, it’s nearly impossible to draw my attention inward and stay in the present moment. So my mental limitations and “freak-out thoughts” just get louder and louder and louder (and a little outlandish) and I experience a moment of anxiety. (You’ve probably experienced this sensation when you were stressed and couldn’t fall asleep at night. Ammiright?)

However, focusing on Counting Backwards anchors me in the present moment and allows me to practice pratyahara, the temporary withdrawing of the senses in Yoga Philosophy. In addition, letting the breath flow freely without the need to control it or change it helps me maintain mindful awareness. It’s a way of moving into the mindset of the “Observer” and regaining, well, a moment of perspective and sanity.

To practice Counting Backwards Meditation:

  1. Start by taking 3 Cleansing Inhales and 3 Cleansing Exhales, as big as possible.
  2. Remember that you are not going to change or control your breath, you are simply going to count it as it moves in and out of your body.
  3. Starting at 50, count backwards with each inhale and exhale until reaching the count of 1.
  4. The inhale is 50, the exhale is 49. The inhale is 48, the exhale is 47 and so on and so forth. If you lose count or become distracted, just start over at 50.
  5. When you reach 1, pause for a few moments and notice any positive changes and shifts in your body, mind and Spirit.

I use this technique often: to slow down the turning vrttis of my mind, to get me up a steep hiking trail, to help me fall asleep and to drop me into meditation mode.

Try my Free Audio Guided Meditation “Counting Backwards” 

Let me know when you use it and how it helps you. Happy Counting,

-lisa

p.s. please for the love, promote our National Parks System! Protect some of the most stunning places on Earth.

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

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