I cannot believe that this is my last week in Stockholm until the summer. The next few months in New York will be focused on my mentorship with Kate and teaching my Yin/Yang class each Saturday. Then, before I know it, I will be back in Stockholm with a work visa, my pup, and teaching experience under my belt. Woohoo!
Time keeps on moving and I keep walking down the path towards my goals and pursuing my passion. I am enjoying the journey and trying to let it all sink in while living the philosophy of having life happen for me and not to me.
As Spring (slowly) approaches and change is all around me, the term 'Spring cleaning' keeps coming to mind. Recently in my practice I have been incorporating a lot of twists to assist the body in detoxing itself. It is time to dust off the cobwebs of winter and purify ourselves for the upcoming season. Twisting stimulates and massages the internal organs and leaves us feeling lighter and more energized. One of my favorite twists is a classic Seated Spinal Twist (or Ardha Matsyendrasana). The posture is accessible and is a great way for yogis of all levels to get into a deep and detoxifying twist.
To get into the pose:
Start to twist your chest to the right and bring the right fingertips close to the sacrum, lengthening the spine. The torso revolves around the spine. Place the left elbow to the outside of the right thigh, gently deepening the twist. Fix your gaze to a spot over the right shoulder. Inhale to lengthen the spine, exhale to twist deeper
Happy Spring cleaning, yogis!!
Who is feeling mindful today? Some days are better than others, right? Occasionally, I get wrapped up in an emotion or a situation and even though I know I am not being mindful in that moment, it is so difficult to snap myself out of it.
Just such an occasion that happened yesterday comes to mind. We are dog sitting the rest of this week for an adorable pup named Tessa (I am loving every minute in doggie heaven!). Preparing for our arrival yesterday, I packed up a bag of our essentials and schlepped it about 45 minutes across Stockholm to take a yoga class in Ostermalm before walking over to the apartment where we are staying. I settled in, took Tessa out for a walk, and went to get my iPad out of my bag so that I could work on my playlist for my yoga class, and write a blog post. My iPad was essential to these activities and it was not in my bag. I remembered that I took it out at the last minute to type up an email and left it sitting on the kitchen table - all the way in Farsta Strand. If this was a mindfulness test, I failed. I was upset at myself that I had been so lost in my own head when leaving Farsta that I forgot to repack my iPad and then just could not get over how annoyed I was by the fact that my afternoon wasn't going as seamlessly as I had hoped. I got carried away in my emotions and the scenario put me in a bad mood the whole 90 minute trip out to Farsta and back again. I knew that I needed to let it go and that I should separate my feelings of annoyance and upset from myself but I just couldn't do it. Finally, after returning and playing with Tessa for a little I was okay and back in a positive mindset. That small incident though just got me all tangled up!
So, my point in telling this story is that this meditation and mindfulness business is not a 'one and done' type of thing. It is a constant, daily, steady practice to which we must stay dedicated. A core principal in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras speaks about Abhyasa and continuos practice:
Abhyasa means having an attitude of persistent effort to attain and maintain a state of stable tranquility (1.13). To become well established, this needs to be done for a long time, without a break (1.14). From this stance the deeper practice continues to unfold, going ever deeper towards the direct experience of the eternal core of our being.
There are no quick fixes, cure-alls, or short-cuts in the pursuit of mental tranquility. To look at this through another lens, think about how hard we work when we go to the gym everyday to lose fat and build up muscle. Even if we attain our physical goals, it is so difficult to maintain them. A few weeks off, a vacation where we drink and eat whatever we want, and we almost have to start all over again the next time we step on the treadmill. In order for us to continue on our spiritual journey we must make time for it every single day. Just 10 minutes a day, everyday, is far better than one hour one time a week. Over time, we will begin to see the positive changes in our mental states, our relationships and in the world around us. Don't give up! And remember that small victories lead to big victories.
So, for this week maintain the seated meditation practice and being mindful of your thoughts and actions throughout the day. If we slip up, it is okay as long as we have that constant, steady, practice to return back to day after day.
Three simple words that can be so powerful. In the yoga room (or anywhere for that matter), I first heard this phrase from Taylor Dunham in her evening Vinyasa 1/2 class. I was there as a Teacher Trainer and had been at work since before 8AM, gone to assist another TT in a class beforehand, and was just getting on my mat for class at 8:15PM. I was tired. I was happy to be there and I love Taylor's classes (therapy balls - yay!) but it had been a long day. Taylor opened the class talking about this phrase and as she spoke I felt a weight lifting off my shoulders. She explained that it didn't matter if we were dragged there by a friend, if we would rather be curled up in bed, or if we simply didn't feel great - we were there and that was all that mattered. It was enough, we were enough.
So much of our lives is spent getting to the next rung on the ladder. We get good grades so that we can get into a decent college, we study hard in college so that we can get a good job. We work crazy hours in the rat race so that we can pay the rent and if we are lucky, get a promotion or a better job. It is all about moving up, getting there. Wherever there is. Society tells us that we need to have successful careers, live in the right zip code, be thin and pretty, have perfect relationships, live in a beautiful home and wear beautiful clothes. According to society, we are never enough!
Once we roll out our yoga mat though, all of that disappears (for at least a little while). We don't have to be anyone, achieve any pre-set goals, or compete with our neighbor. We can just be. Just as we are.
One time in college someone asked me why I enjoyed activities such as backpacking and yoga over more 'traditional' sports. After giving it some thought I responded that I found I thrived in those activities because I was not competing directly with anyone else but was rather working with myself. She did not understand what I was talking about, which is fine, but that interaction stuck with me. As I grow in my yoga practice (and in life), I realize that what I was saying during that conversation was all about that feeling of I am enough.
Many times people have told me that they don't practice yoga because they aren't flexible, they are too old, need to lose weight first, don't have the right gear, and so on. The beautiful thing is - none of that matters! We should be practicing even more so if we feel that we are constricted in some physical, mental or material way. The yoga teaches us that we are perfect, unique creatures just as we are.
Today, even (or especially!) if you have never stepped foot in a yoga class, tell yourself that you are enough. Whatever happened today, whatever challenges you are facing - you are enough.
Happy Hump Day, Yogis:)
Spring is such a roller coaster. One minute it is a beautiful, 60 degree, sunny afternoon and everyone is outside smiling and skipping along and the next it is cold, snowing, windy with people bundled up wondering what they did to deserve this.
In Stockholm this weekend we saw snow, rain, wind, you name it. I even got out my snow boots again - ugh. With the finicky nature of Spring in mind, today's asana is all about the Yin posture Butterfly. The legs in this pose mirror the wing´s of a butterfly (a sure sign of warmer weather) but also is a forward bend and therefore comforting and inward.
Butterfly is a great way to stretch the lower back and the inner thighs. This asana allows even those of us with tight hamstrings to get that delicious lower back stretch that may allude us in other forward folds. If your feet are closer into to the groin, then the inside of the thighs will get more of a stretch but if the feet are further away, the outside of the thighs will feel more of a stretch. It is nice to sit on a folded blanket during Butterfly so that the hips are elevated and the pelvic bowl is tilting forward - plus the extra cushion is nice on the bum:). Once the soles of the feet are together, adjust the distance between the feet and your body and then round the back and lean forward. I like to rest my hands on my feet or on the floor in front of me. If you are holding the pose for a few minutes (and you should!) then it might be nice for the neck to have a bolster propped up on the inside of the heels for your forehead to rest onto. Butterfly, a Yin pose, looks similar to its Yang counterpart Baddha Konasana except for a few key alignment points. Unlike Baddha Konasana, do not think about keeping a flat back and straight spine as you bend forward but rather allow gravity to do its job and maintain the natural curve in the spine. Also, do not feel the need to bring the feet as close into the groin as possible - let the feet slide out creating a nice diamond shape with the legs. Find your edge in the pose and stay there. Breathe and pray for warmer weather. Hold the pose for 3-5 minutes.
I hope everyone is having a mindful week and enjoying being present in every day activities! This week, I want to share an excerpt I read the other day in Robin Sharma´s The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari. It has actually come up in conversation multiple times over the past few days and I keep thinking about it (which is pretty funny after you know what the quote is). In the book one of the characters, Julian, refers to a lesson that he learned when spending time with wise Sage´s in the Himalayas:
On an average day the average person runs about sixty thousand thoughts through his mind. What really amazed me, though, was that ninety-five percent of those thoughts were the same as the ones you thought the day before!
So, this really amazed me as well. The thoughts that come through our minds shape our perception which in turn shapes how we view and interact with the world around us. I can think of a few not-so-nice thought patterns that come into my head about 95% of the time. Negative thoughts and worries can swirl around about my personal finances, if I will be a successful yoga teacher, if I am a good enough friend, daughter, sister, or girlfriend, if I have gained weight, if my arms look fat, when I will have time to do my taxes, it goes on and on. Right? Well, it doesn't have to. Thinking thoughts can be as tangible as walking, for example, and we can decide which thoughts we allow to enter the mind and which we do not. The mind is like any other muscle in the body and must be exercised and strengthened. Just as we must have strong legs in order to walk, we must also have strong minds in order to control the stream of thoughts coming in and out each day. In order to strengthen the mind, we must build a daily meditation practice and develop the habit of being mindful.
The mind is an excellent servant but a terrible master. If trained and used well, the mind can propel us into the lives that we want to live. If we let the mind run rampant with negative thoughts than it controls us in a way that turns our view of the world into something less than pleasant. Meditation trains us to be the guard of our own thoughts - permitting only the positive ones to enter the mind.
In addition to the daily meditation that we are all sticking to every morning, this week let´s add one more layer of mindfulness that we can use through out the day. In order to change these negative thought patterns we first must be aware of them! So, in the next 7 days do just that. Be aware. When that anxiety about tomorrow´s presentation at work starts to sprout in the mind take a step back to acknowledge the thought. No need to berate ourselves for thinking a certain thought or build onto that anxiety by worrying about your negative thought - just acknowledge it and move on.
If you are interesting in reading more, you can find Robin Sharma´s book here.
I would also recommend listening to Gretchen Rubin´s podcasts and reading her book The Happiness Project (though I don´t directly quote from it in this post, I have found it to be an interesting and helpful read) You can find her book here.
Happy meditating my friends!!
Thinking such positive thoughts about the beautiful weather we are enjoying in Stockholm today:)
"Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.” –Pablo Picasso
This quote appeared at the beginning of The Art of Yin Yoga chapter in Ulrica Norberg´s book titled Yin Yoga: An Individualized Approach to Balance, Health, and Whole Self Well-Being. I have to admit that it was not a quote that I would have expected to be in a yoga book so naturally, I became curious about its meaning and its relation to Yin Yoga.
In the chapter, Ulrica mainly discusses the topic of tension; emotional, mental, and physical. Yoga enables us to release this tension and therefore create a more peaceful inner self. The yogis believe that the release of tension can be shown in several different forms. Ulrica illustrates some of these ways including:
-Emotional Release (good or bad emotions)
-Muscular spasms or releases
According to Pablo Picasso, this destruction, or release, must happen before an act of creation. So, in the destruction of tension what are we then creating? Through a dedicated yoga and meditation practice, positive energy replaces the negative thoughts and tensions that we previously experienced. Positive energy is what we need to improve our mental and physical health from the inside out. With that internal change and "when our health stabilizes and we are able to keep our balance better, we can make a larger impact on the world around us” says Ulrica.
Let's take this back a step though and think about our closest relationships and how this positive energy can affect the people who we interact with day to day. How many times have we excused our own rude or aggressive behavior by claiming, "sorry but I am just so stressed right now."? Even if we don't acknowledge it, internal stress and tension is usually at the root of a harsh comment made or an argument that could have been avoided. If nothing else, tension makes us feel lousy and therefore we are not able to provide emotionally for the people around us.
In an excerpt from The Monk who Sold his Ferrari the author, Robin Sharma, also adequately addresses Picasso's idea of creation and destruction. To paraphrase from the book, a student and his teacher are seated together when the student holds out his cup for the teacher to serve him tea. He fills the student's cup but soon the cup is full and the tea starts to pour over its edges and onto the floor. The student is confused and asks the teacher why he keeps pouring tea into his already full cup? The teacher responds, "Just like this cup, you seem to be full of your own ideas. And how can any more go in... until you first empty your cup."
It can seem scary to 'empty our cups' because it is what we know and with what we are familiar. Over time, yoga allows us to gradually tip out the past tensions of our emotional, mental, and physical self. As drops of stress and negative thought patterns are destroyed, yoga replaces them with the positive energy that we need to change ourselves thus changing how we perceive the world around us. Destruction and creation, yin and yang, sun and moon, lightness and darkness - one does not exist without the other.
And now to end on a lighter note and as an homage to my true favorite Pablo out there, please enjoy these photos of my adorable pup (Fun Fact: Pablo is actually not named after Pablo Picasso but Pablo Neruda, a Chilean poet).
Years after my first yoga class in high school, I bought a Living Social deal for Bikram Yoga Williamsburg in Brooklyn. I had not had a dedicated yoga practice in a long time but I was really feeling the urge to get back to the mat. I had just quit my first job in NYC. The place where I had worked was (how can I put this nicely?) toxic and brought me home feeling wretched and even in tears some days. I was mentally and physically drained from a cocktail of workplace stress and, well, cocktails - I was a 25 year old who had just moved to NYC and I was following the prescription of 'work hard, play hard'. I knew that during the search for a new position and living on a tight budget I needed something that could help me deal with the transition and the stresses that came along with it. I remember walking into Bikram Yoga Williamsburg and immediately being psyched to be there - the place had good vibes. I was taken aback when the class was taught in a way that I had never experienced before - first, it was REALLY hot; second, it seemed like most of the students already knew what was coming up next in the sequence (which it turns out they, in fact, did). That first Bikram class had me hooked and I continued a Bikram practice during my job search and then for about three years afterwards as well. Despite the controversy surrounding it's founder, I credit Bikram for kicking my butt (in just the way I needed) and getting me back on my yoga mat day after day, week after week.
Okay, now let´s get to the asana for today. Despite being hot and confused during that first class, I remember the teacher guiding us into Ustrasana, Camel Pose for the first time. During the second set, I decided to give it a try and I could quite literally feel my chest opening and expanding. I thought there must be something to this pose if it feels this intense! The teacher explained that Ustrasana is a heart and chest opener. In day to day life (especially if we sit at a desk most of the day), our bodies are hunched over and (subconsciously, perhaps?) guarding our hearts and our emotions, our vulnerabilities. Thus opening and expanding the chest, Ustrasana can aid in an emotional release for the practitioner. Have you ever heard a teacher say, 'open your heart'? After this pose, I understood what that phrase meant. In Light On Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar states the effects of this pose as being beneficial for people with drooping shoulders and/or hunched backs as well as stretching and toning the spine. This is a pose that helps us to change how our bodies are being shaped in modern day society.
In addition, Ustrasana will help to open the hips, stretches the shoulders, relieves lower back pain, and improves digestion by expanding the abdominal region. There are a few variations on Ustrasana including stretching one arm overhead and it will promote the chest opening even more. In terms of where Ustrasana falls in a sequence, it is a great opportunity to transition in between standing poses and the floor or supine poses - it also feels healing to wrap yourself into Child´s Pose after Camel. To help with your front body alignment, try doing the pose against a wall with the goal of keeping your hips and thighs pressed against the wall.
I read an interesting article on the website for Bikram Yoga Vancouver that Camel Pose most likely got its name not from the bend in the back resembling a camel hump but from how a camel kneels to let people on and off its back. So the pose is probably named more for its setup than the actual backbend. Also, another very interesting fact from the Bikram Vancouver Yoga website: Camels can kick in all four directions with each of their legs - wow!
Some tips and pics for getting into the pose:
How did it go for my fellow meditators this past week? Even if you only got in one session – kudos to you!! When trying something new (that is quite possibly far out of your comfort zone) usually the first step is the hardest so congrats on taking the leap!
The longer I build a daily meditation practice into my life, the more I am able to observe the benefits of the practice in my day-to-day life off of the mat. The more mindful I become during my daily activities, the easier it is to sit in a formal meditation practice as well. It is a positive mental carousel to jump on to!
Now the next question is how to actually be mindful in day-to-day life. I recently posted on my Instagram account an exercise to consciously think about each time you go from sitting to standing and standing to sitting. This exercise was difficult! I would usually catch myself a few moments after I sat/stood and be a little irked that I had forgotten. When I was present during the sit/stand transition, it bordered on an out-of-body experience. Our minds are so accustomed to thinking about something other than what are bodies or even are brains are actually supposed to be doing. In our culture, we are constantly being told to multi-task. Any good office worker can multi-task, any good parent or teacher can as well. But wait – can we really??
In fact, our minds are only able to think about one thing at a time. Sure, we have become so familiar with driving the same route to work every day that we are able to have a phone conversation at the same time. That driving route has become so automatic that we are not actually thinking about it. Try that same route though when it is sleeting outside or if there is an unsafe driver near you on the road – we hang up the phone because we need to think about what we are doing. Society tells us that in order to be productive we must do a million things at once but in reality, our minds are simply not programmed that way. If you still aren´t buying it, here is an interesting article from Forbes to check out.
Our goal for this week:
At least 3 times per day be present in whatever task you are doing. If you are writing an email, for example, think about how your body feels sitting in the chair, the feeling of your fingers on the keyboard and the words as they are coming into your mind and onto the screen. At first, it is a trippy experience because we are not used to actually being present in our own daily lives. Just for 30 seconds at a time, 3 times a day, let´s commit to being present in our own activities.
Good luck and I cannot wait to hear about your experiences! Again, if you have any questions or want to discuss your personal practice feel free to leave a comment below or email me at KellyLawson86@gmail.com
Continuing in our study in Patanjali´s Yoga Sutra #33, let´s focus on the final two phrases of the sutra. As a reminder, the full sutra is:
By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.
Patanjali tells us to "delight in the virtuous". While at the surface this may seems easy, in practice it can take a bit of effort. We all know those people who seem perfect and always have enough time in the day to be the ideal employee, friend, mother, sister, husband, yogi, gardener, hand-stander, you name it! As yogis, we must not fall into the trap of envy or try to pull that person down to a lower level. Instead, we must appreciate how great these people are and strive to be more like them. Okay, okay - I can already sense the smug thoughts bubbling up in all our minds but remember, the point of having these keys is to our own benefit. If we are able to unlock this virtuous category with delight, it will only cause more happiness in our own lives. I know I can think of occasions when I turned to gossiping about someone else because, “she thinks she is so perfect and it’s just annoying.” Ugh, it makes me cringe thinking about it now for two reasons. The first being that this kind of negative thought pattern and conversation benefited no one and only hurt myself; it made me appear petty and jealous and created a space for even more negativity to breed. The second reason is that despite how perfect anyone looks, he or she is battling with his or her own issues. That virtuous person may have self-esteem issues, they may be doing too much and eventually burn out, they could have had a traumatic event happen in their past – we are only seeing what that person is presenting to the outside world. Getting to the point of delighting in the truly virtuous will free the mind of negative thought patterns and misconceptions and only allow more love into your life. Awesome.
Finally, the Sutra tells us to keep a healthy distance from the wicked. We all have people in our lives that drag us down and don't have our best interest at heart. The toxic friend, lover, or maybe even family member is a person we have all known at some point. No matter what we say or what we do, this person will not change. In this situation, step back a healthy distance and acknowledge that these people are not actually wicked, they are only acting wicked. Dissimilar to those in the unhappy category, or lock, the wicked will not heed from a shoulder to cry on or gain from our charity. In these situations, you must create distance between yourself and the person in order to maintain a happy and quiet mind. I am reminded of a friend who spoke about a family member who treated her poorly, spoke down to her, bashed her choices in life, and generally just made her feel bad whenever they had contact. This was a person in my friend´s immediate family so how could she possibly put any sort of healthy distance between them? Life is not always so simple, right? While she may not be able to avoid this person at family events and holidays, she does have it in her power to cut a phone call short or completely avoid any unnecessary conversation. When speaking with the person who is acting wicked, she knows that she will not be able to ´fix´ them so she can stop trying. Trying to fix another person takes a lot of energy and if that person is not ready, it is wasted energy. People can change, absolutely, and when or if they do, we will be the first ones there with an open heart and mind. As yogis, we do not wish harm or ill will upon these wicked people but we also have the power to keep a healthy distance from them in order to keep the peace and tranquility in our own minds.
Quite a big chunk of information to chew on but I advise you do just that - turn this over in your mind for awhile and think of it when you come across these locks in daily life. As Yogi Charu instructed, write this in bold on a piece of paper and stick it on your fridge or your desk or wherever you will see it every day. Especially in a city like New York or Stockholm where we are constantly encountering and surrounded by other people's 'stuff' this is incredibly helpful and important.
Have a great rest of the day, yogis! I love you!
How is it Monday again?! I worked at a yoga studio most of the weekend as a Karma Yogi and took some really fantastic classes as well. The weather was absolutely perfect in Stockholm yesterday - sunny and 61 degrees. The whole city was out enjoying the warm air with smiles on their faces. I ran into some friends in Östermalm and joined them for a cocktail, sitting by the water. We could not get over the feeling of the sunshine on our skin. Divine.
Today in Asana on a Monday we will be diving into a most wonderful Yin pose: Bananasana. I am totally in love with this posture for a few reasons, the first being that it is called Bananasana. When you are in the posture, your body actually looks like a nice, ripe banana - how great is that!? Another reason I love this asana is because of the great side-body stretch that is allows.
I love balancing my Yang practice with some delicious Yin. Yang stretches and strengthens the muscles while Yin lengthens the fascia and other connective tissues. I have found that some days my body craves a vigorous, sweaty, powerful Vinyasa practice while other days I am aching for peace from a quiet Yin sequence. This discovery of the balance between Yin and Yang in my life and in my practice has lead me to an exciting opportunity in New York. As some of you know, Peppe and I will be returning to NYC for April, May and June (for various reasons). Fortunately, the timing works out perfectly to take on a mentorship with the beautiful and inspiring Kate Kuss at Pure Yoga! I could not be more thrilled for this next step in the journey and how it will benefit me as a teacher and in my own practice.
If you are going to be in New York between April 11th - June 27th, please come take my Ying/Yang class at Pure Yoga East on Saturdays from 2:30-3:45PM!!!
There will be some fun, flowing Vinayasa sequences paired with peaceful and opening Yin postures. Woohoo!!
Okay, back to Bananasana - because I know that you want to try this one before crawling into bed tonight. It is easy enough to get into but actually can be quite intense to hold for a long period of time. Yin is all about going to your edge and staying there. No need to let your ego seduce you into pushing past that edge - just find it and be there, explore how it feels, really experience the sensations in your body and in your mind. Bananasa provides the side body a stretch all the way from the IT-band to the tops of the ribcage.
Start by lying on your back with your legs straight out in front of you and your arms resting on the floor above your head. Clasp opposite elbows or hands together. Slowly, start to arch your arms and legs to the right - like a banana. As you arch, be sure to keep your hips and your glutes firmly on the mat. Come to your edge and stay there for awhile. Breathe. If you feel you can go a bit further after awhile, then do, but just to that next line of resistance then stop and breathe. To come out of the pose simply bring your arms and legs slowly back to center. Repeat on the left side as well and hold each side for 3-5 minutes.
I find it really helpful to keep my iPhone nearby and set a timer for each pose. That way, the mind is able to relax and let go instead of thinking about the time. You can also use the timer to ensure that you are doing a posture on each side (left and right) for the same amount of time. Remember the Peace Alarm Clock app that I told you about on Thursday? That app works well for timing Yin poses as well!
Here I am enjoying being a banana, exploring my limits in Bananasana:
That about wraps it up for this week's asana! Give Bananasana a try before bed tonight - I promise you won't regret it!